I’ve been thinking for awhile now that I should write a blog post about something weighty since the world seems to become weightier by the week. Perhaps I could add something pithy to the discussion of climate change or propose a novel solution to the terrorist threat. I have pretty strong feelings about how we should be responding to the refugee crisis. Canada, I think, is getting it right. Our neighbours to the south, maybe not. So nice to feel we’re doing something good after those ten long years. But, as for pithy, I’m at a loss. So, I’m going to write about dancing.
Last evening we attended a Christmas dinner and dance for retired teachers. We’ve never gone before; in fact, it’s for retired public and secondary school teachers, which we’re not. But we were invited by some friends who make this an annual ritual and we knew lots of people there.
We haven’t been to a dance for a long time, but as I sat at our table and watched events on and off the dance floor—and occasionally got up to engage in what Jack and I refer to as dancing—I was struck by the fact that nothing much has changed except for the age and attire of the participants. Most of the men wore jackets and ties—something tie-less Jack noticed soon after we arrived. The women have more choices—some were elegantly attired, some casual, most in between. (As we were leaving, my friend Carol asked, “Have you noticed, the dress is back?” So it is.)
The floor was mostly crowded with people who moved their bodies more or less according to the rhythm of the music, feet and arms in parallel motion, hips swaying to various degrees. A few single women, determined to enjoy themselves—the men be damned—danced together or in groups. That never happens with single men. I guess the assumption is they can always ask a woman to dance…how these conventions continue to plague us!
The music was a gentle mix of fast and slow; the grins and the lip-syncing that accompanied the Beatles songs was a pretty good reflection of the generation in attendance if the grey hair and occasional cane hadn’t already clued you in.
I’ve never really learned to dance. Dancing first came to my attention as a social event in Junior High, where the stage in the school auditorium was devoted to dancing during lunchtime. I sat in the audience of lesser beings, chewing my peanut butter sandwich and watching the popular kids jitterbug and bebop—or whatever we were doing in the late 1950s. (I do remember a heated debate about whether it was appropriate to dance to “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”)
My mother, no doubt concerned for my social well-being, enrolled me in social dance classes where partners were provided and where I learned to waltz and foxtrot. In the last couple of classes, we ventured into the cha-cha. I occasionally attended a school dance—where no one did the cha-cha—with a clutch of girls who hung about the sidelines hoping that someone would ask us to dance. By high school I had pretty well decided dancing was a low-life activity. (Even then, I might have recognized that this had something to do with the absence of eager partners.)
I can’t remember dancing at all between high school and my early 30’s, after we’d moved to the farm and began attending the local Agricultural Society dances. We sat at long tables in the township hall, drank beer or rye and ginger ale from plastic glasses, and danced to the country and western music of local bands.
Oh my darlin’ knock three times—boom boom—on the ceiling if you want me, twice on the pipe—boom boom—if the answer is no
At midnight, when the band packed up, women scurried around setting up long tables for a pot-luck “lunch”. We feasted on pans of lasagna, crock-pots filled with baked beans, jello salads of every colour and description, home-made tarts and cakes, and plenty of hot coffee to sober up (we still believed that myth).
We drove home with the sounds of Don Discher’s Sundowners echoing in our heads.
Well a simple kinda life never did me no harm
A raisin’ me a family and workin’ on a farm.
My days are all filled with an easy country charm.
Thank God I’m a country boy.
Oh dear. It was a long way from the State College Junior High auditorium.
And here’s another difference: people could dance. I mean, really dance. Not everybody, of course. There were lots who, like us, simply wiggled in time to the music, usually separated by enough space that if our sense of rhythm differed from that of our partner it didn’t really matter. For the slow pieces, my own rhythmically-challenged partner and I simply shifted our weight from one foot to the other in approximate time to the music. (His mother didn’t require him to take social dance classes, and I’ve never forgiven her for that.) But the real dancers—Oh my god; this was not low-life!—they moved effortlessly, in perfect sync, swaying and sachaying across the floor; they polkaed without a stumble; they danced, even to fast music, arm in arm or hand to hand with stunning pivots and pirouettes. I wanted to do that. I imagined that, with a skilled partner, I could. And then, sometimes, one of those fine-dancing men asked me to dance. I stumbled and apologized until we eventually settled into a boring two-step that I could manage.
Last night’s dance bore little resemblance to those Agricultural Society dances of our younger days. A several-course meal, festive centre-pieces on linen tablecloths, no plastic glasses, nostalgic music, but no country western. But looking out on the dance floor, there they were. Sprinkled among the just-having-a-good-time dancers were the real dancers. A handful of couples who never stumbled in confusion when the rhythm changed, who stood erect and graceful, matching step for step as they glided—I know, it’s a cliché, but that’s what they did—across the floor. They take up more space than the shufflers, because they’re actually moving. They’re beautiful to watch. I want to be one of them.
And if I were, perhaps my hip would not be aching this morning.